January 6, 2005
A History Lesson
Why this is one of the greatest shows ever. Following a story I wrote in 1982 about that show, written for Deadheads and non-Deadheads. A small segment was printed in the book "Skelaton Key".
"Boulder B-a-a-a-y gulls."
It was Lenny. Of course. Moaning about bagels. In a chipped-rock and gravel parking lot outside of Austin, Texas. Wearing a skirt.
Lenny had been at the Grateful Dead concert two nights ago at the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Boulder, Colorado along with Mark, Peter Lemonjello, me, and 10,000 other crazed bozos.
But only a few of those had decided to take the long drive down to Texas -- 900 miles -- to see just one Dead show near Austin before the band swung straight back north for a show the following day in Oklahoma City, on lead guitarist Jerry Garcia's birthday. The Grateful Dead play a completely different rock show every night, and a lot of folks look for clues, like Jerry's birthday, to help them pick which shows will be the hot ones.
I went to Texas because Mark had called this one. Most concert tickets nowadays come from big computerized ticket companies -- Ticketron or Teletron -- and all the tickets look alike; printed on computer paper by machines in shopping malls across the country. A ticket to the baseball game looks no different than a ticket to the Rolling Stones. But Mark had gotten a look at the special mail-order tickets for the Austin show (actually Manor Downs, Texas) and they sparkled. No really; the tickets were impregnated with little specks of silver sparkle, probably to make them harder to counterfeit, but Mark saw it as an omen.
"Look, over the years we've gone through hundreds of different theories on how to pick the hot shows,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Mark said. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂSaturdays. Favorite concert halls. Cities where they played a hot show last year. Outdoor shows. We're never right. I'm averaging only one out of every 15 shows that I pick being the amazing performance that makes my jaw drop; that makes me scratch my head for weeks afterwards saying, 'What was that!'
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂMaybe the quintessential statement on Dead shows came from this guy I saw talking to an usher in Chicago. He said, 'I've seen the Grateful Dead 53 times. And 52 times they've let me down. But once they were GREAT!' So I donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt know. But there are just two things IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm sure of: the Dead never play the really big show two nights in a row, and they always blow the big ones. Woodstock -- a disaster for the Dead. New YearÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs last year -- ditto, ditto. I figure that they'll screw up Jerry's birthday in Oklahoma City big time, but they'll be so excited the day before his birthday in Texas that they'll peak too soon and cook. You have to trust me on this one.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
How could you argue with logic like that? I got in the car. It was the easiest 900 miles I ever drove...because Mark did the driving himself in an all-night frenzy. I went to sleep, I woke up in the back seat of my Corolla, I was in Texas. At a Dunkin' Donuts, where Peter Lemonjello was exchanging testy words with some locals over the length of his hair (yes, even today, in the early '80s.) Peter's not a fighter, and neither were the rest of us, so we hustled him back into the car and continued on.
I don't know how Lenny got down to Texas, with the bag full of bagels from a Boulder bakery he was trying to sell in the parking lot. Lenny lived in a convoluted world of cars where he stored his backpack during each night's concert and friends of friends houses or cheap motel rooms where he crashed after the show. In the morning there would be roundabout negotiations over who could fit in which beat up van or VW for a ride to that night's concert while a dozen Deadheads lay around rolling joints and watching re-runs of The Love Boat and the motel manager kept calling to say that it was past check-out time. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂOh yeah. We were just leaving. Or something.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Click.
But there was Lenny, in Texas, looking exceptionally world-weary and wise for a 22-year old. Matted hair. Lots of necklaces of hand-strung beads, each with a too-long story behind it. A vest. A poncho too. Innumerable bells and sashes. No shoes. (ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂI lost them after the Penn State show.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ How could anyone lose their shoes?) And the skirt. Not a feminine skirt particularly; more like an African tribesman might wear. An African tribesman who spent a lot of time in Berkeley, anyway.
Or Santa Cruz, for that matter. Lenny was definitely on the circuit then. There was an unofficial, unnamed circuit of cool places to hang out. Boulder; Santa Cruz; Eugene, Oregon; Ann Arbor; Yellow Springs, Ohio (Antioch College ); Boston...You could hitchhike from one to the other and always find a place to crash. Then you went home to Long Island and asked your parents for more money before hitting the road again.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂLenny! WhatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs up?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Lenny smiled with the wisdom of vast psychedelic experience. His eyes were a little glassy and focused on some distant land, but in a kind way his look said, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve seen things that are so incredibly beautiful and full of magic. If only I could tell you all about them but, well, you know how it is... Or do you?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
OK, thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs a lot of message from just one glance, but if anyone could pull it off, it was Lenny. He was the youngest ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂwise old manÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd ever met.
I gave Lenny a nectarine. He bit into it and thought for a moment in silence.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂGlen... This is the most incredible fruit I have ever had in my entire life. I want to thank you. Thank you. What did you say this fruit is called?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂLenny! ItÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs just a nectarine. YouÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve never had a nectarine before?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Again he thought deeply, stroking his scraggly beard.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂNo. No, I have never had a nectarine before. Thank you.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
And thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs the way things went with Lenny. It was hard to tell when he was joking and when he was serious. Which leads to circular quandaries, such as, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIf this is just a joke, what kind of person thinks it would be hilarious to pretend that theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve never had a nectarine before?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂOh, I donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt know,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ said Red-Haired Rick, another Deadhead, when I asked him about it later. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHave you ever met LennyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs mother? SheÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs from Queens or Brooklyn or something... maybe Long Island. Some nice middle-class neighborhood. I stayed there once after some upstate New York shows. But if you met her, you could believe that he really hasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt ever seen a nectarine before.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Lenny and I talked about the recent Dead shows for awhile, just the usual stuff, when Lenny blurted, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve seen 154 shows.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
That was quite a number, and I was humbled. I was a couple years older than Lenny, I think, and my own lifetime count was around 100. And I had started seeing the band back in ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ76. If Lenny had started in ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ79 or ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ80...
Lenny must have seen me doing the math in my head. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂNo, no! IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve seen 154 shows on this tour! I havenÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt missed a Dead show in a year and a half!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂYou went to the shows in Europe?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂThatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs great, Lenny! So howÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs it been? You must have seen so many amazing shows.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Suddenly his wandering grin dropped and he looked at the ground.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂItÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs...bad,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ he said, and shuddered. He stepped forward and touched my elbow.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂItÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs getting really bad, Glen. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve been eating LSD...dosing every night for like a year and a half -- even the nights off when thereÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs no show. My life is getting totally screwed up. I gotta get off the tour. You know Ar-el? The guy with the blue pick-up truck? The other night heÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs mega-dosing and heÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs like really high and I find him during the show and heÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs just staring at his hand or something and I remember that he lapped up this huge puddle of liquid LSD from his hand and I ask him, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHowÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs it going, brother?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ and he just smiles at me and says, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂBetter.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Right! You know? You know how he has that way of saying, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂBetter,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ when things are totally out there?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
He was getting excited and his story didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt make much sense, but I nodded and listened. I learned awhile back that people who eat a lot of acid donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt explode, and they donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt fall off the edge of the earth (or out of windows, in spite of everything we saw in those films in junior high). Mostly they just get weirder and weirder. And one of the ways they get weird is that everything starts to connect to everything else, which leads to a lot of stories like, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂYesterday I was carrying this big bottle of juice called Sunny Valley Apple Juice and I dropped it in the parking lot after the show and it shattered and just missed my foot and I remembered that Tuesday IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd offered Digger a ride after the Tempe, Arizona show and IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd forgotten to meet up with him and he had to hitchhike and the parking lot where I was supposed to meet him had a big billboard for the Sunny Grocery Store right? So then I realized why IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd dropped the bottle of juice.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Lenny was starting to cry a little.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂGlen, man, I got to get off the tour. This is my last show.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂUh... you know, Lenny, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Maybe you should get off the tour; I mean for awhile, anyway.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
LennyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs problems were serious, no doubt, and getting off the tour probably was a good idea. But there I was -- unemployed, dropped out of my second college and trying desperately to select a third one, living at home with my divorced father in the Jersey suburbs, completely miserable with my life -- and IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm telling Lenny how he should be living his life!
For all of LennyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs problems, when you got down to it Lenny was dancing barefoot in the sunshine everyday, seeing the country, hanging out with kind, loving, people (including many wonderful women) and seeing what at that time I considered to be the finest popular musicians of our day, and IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm going to tell him how to live his life! Which one of us was crazier! Lenny was ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂruiningÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ his life, but having a stupendous time doing it. I was trying harder than ever to act like a responsible adult, and I was not happy.
Lenny saw some people he knew from some show and I snuck off. I met up with Mark and Peter Lemonjello and we walked back to my car to get ready for the show. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd lost so much stuff over the years at Dead shows that I learned to strip down to the bare essentials before I went in: car keys, a 10 dollar bill for emergencies, and one piece of photo I.D. (in case they found me wandering through the Mojave with a silly grin on my face). As I emptied all the other crap and lint out of my pockets, I found the liquid bottle.
At least I thought; no, I knew it was a liquid bottle. LSD comes in several forms -- little squares of paper blotter acid, microdots that look like the miniature fluoride ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂtooth pillsÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ I took as a kid... but the feature flavor on tour this summer was colorless, odorless, liquid; served up and sold from little plastic eyedrop bottles for $3 a drop, or two drops for $5. (ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTwo for five,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ people mumbled as they wandered through the crowd, discreetly selling doses, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTwo for five.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ)
IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd found the liquid bottle on the ground after the Red Rocks show. Now I held it up to the fading sunlight. Empty? Or just one or two drops left? Hard to tell. I gave it a jiggle and looked again. There didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt seem to be anything left. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd heard that if you rinsed an ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂemptyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ liquid bottle out with water and drank the water, there would be one good dose left in the bottle.
Mark handed me a Mickey Malt, a beer best known for coming in a squat green bottle with a wide mouth the size of a half dollar. I snapped the liquid bottle in two, dropped both pieces right into my Mickey Malt, and gave it all a swirl. I drank it as we walked toward the show.
On the way we passed a car, neatly parked on the shoulder of the road between all the other cars, in a huge ball of flame. We heard the fire engines coming from down the highway, weaving their way slowly through crowds of concert goers. Some people watched the car burn, but most just shrugged and walked by. In this crew you learned to expect a lot of weird stuff, and a burning car didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt seem that unusual compared to a lot of the other adventures these folks had been on recently.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂWhoa. Can you imagine coming out of the show, so high, and finding your car melted into the ground?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ said Mark. I thought to myself that there are only a few really interesting stories that start off, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂOnce we were so high...ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ but having your car turn into a puddle while you were at a Dead show was probably right up there.
We kept walking. I didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt feel any effects from the liquid LSD. Maybe the bottle had been empty after all.
Manor Downs was as I had remembered it from a year ago; a horse racing track, with the concert held on the soft grass of the infield. A few hard-core Deadheads in tie-dye shirts and drawstring pants, me in my traditional shorts and lightweight backpacking shirt. Many swillfully drunk locals with white T-shirts and Harley or Budweiser belt buckles. Most concert sites wonÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt even sell cups of beer anymore; Manor Downs sells full cases of canned Red White & Blue beer to the crowd. I walked around with a big smile and shuffled through the grass. It was still warm out and the air smelled sweet. What a nice change from the usual hockey rinks and college auditoriums where most of the shows take place. I took off my shoes so I could feel the cool cool grass.
Mark had called this one. It was the show. Every note glided into place, rolling in like a warm breeze. Phil, the bass player, stepped way out in front and pushed the band along. The bass is usually lost in the cavernous girders of the big halls, where Phil looks bored; spending the show with his back to the crowd, peering over the top of his wire-rim glasses, twiddling the knobs on his equipment, and talking to the oscilloscope heÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs had installed in his rack of gear. I think Phil realized that this show was one of the few opportunities all year for us to be able to hear him clearly.
I stood there with my mouth hanging open, and was nudged by a local Texan. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂWhen PhilÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs in the driverÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs seat...ya got nothinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ tÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ worry about,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ he said solemnly. I nodded. Phil dug in deeper, and I heard a loud crackle followed by a buzz as the sound system peaked-out from the overload . The sound crew writhed around on the stage floor with their little flashlights, re-plugging equipment and flipping circuit breakers as quick as they could. Phil didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt let up. The crew looked wide-eyed and frantic. I smacked my forehead with my palm.
I realized that I was high. Very high. The liquid bottle rinse had worked, finally. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd given up on it after the first hour passed without feeling anything. Now, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was really glad that I was in the familiar environment of a Dead show, where I had tripped so many times before, because in any other setting I probably would have been too high to deal. At a Dead show, no matter how high you are, you can be pretty sure that someone near you is even higher. A good place to be when youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂre floating free.
The DeadÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs second set is for the most part one big improvisational jam that flows in and out and around their standard songs. Jerry eased the band through its jam toward the DeadÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs only big commercial hit, TruckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ.
I was disappointed. They had tried the song just two nights earlier at Red Rocks, and it had been a disaster -- they were out of tune and they missed the big crescendo that comes after the guitar solo. With a repertoire as vast as the DeadÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs it seemed awful soon to be trying the same tune again.
The band started to launch into Truckin', but Jerry didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt seem to like the way it was being done, so he pulled back, like an old man carefully playing a trout with a wispy fly fishing pole. They played through the bars of the jam and came around again. But again it wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt what Jerry had in mind, and again he steered everyone off. This all with no verbal communication between the band members, just a lot of raised eyebrows and smiles. Jerry seemed to say to rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂNo, youngster, not quite. Listen carefully now...like this...,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂand they were in and flying.
After the singy-songy verses they came around to the guitar solo, and it all made sense. After the embarrassment of botching this old chestnut so badly just two nights earlier, Jerry was revisiting the scene of the crime as a reminder to himself on his birthday (itÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs past midnight! ItÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs JerryÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs birthday now!) that he still had it; a 42-year old rocker, hammering each individual note in its place without hesitation. The rest of the band worked to keep up. He was unrelenting. As the crescendo built I involuntarily took a small step backward and braced myself on my rear foot. Jerry stopped on a dime, lifted his guitar neck just a bit higher, and sent the peak crashing down on us in a searing bolt. My whole body lit up. And without missing a beat he came around again, and hit the same crescendo for a second time, just to make sure. Jerry was all smiles. How could the same band that had played the same song so poorly just two nights earlier pull this off?
I wandered back to the car, barefoot. I had lost my shoes at the show. Well not lost; IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd tied them to a railing and someone had stolen them. Somewhere in Texas someone is daring to run around the redneck bars in a pair of bright purple Converse high-tops.
I ran into Lenny as I was walking along.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂSo. Lenny. WhatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd you think of...ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Lenny was already talking before I could finish.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTHAT WAS... the BEST show! ThatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs it. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm going to see every show on the tour. And IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm going to dose every single night! That was so great!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂYeah, well, are you going to Oklahoma City?ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
For anyone else, that would be a question of status or loyalty; a polite way to ask a weary follower if they were sticking with the quest, and taking on another 300 miles of bleary-eyed driving to be there with the faithful when this insane circus re-convened the next night in Oklahoma City (or St. Louis, or Buffalo, or Greensboro), but in this case I probably didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt need to ask because regrettably I already knew the answer. Like having a friend who is an alcoholic, you know that youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂll always find them at your local bar when you drop in from time to time. Nice to see them again, but...
I made my way back to the car. Folks had obviously availed themselves earlier of the fireworks stands that were set up near the show, and the parking lot was now ablaze with rockets being launched horizontally. Five fast fireballs from a roman candle shot past my ankles as I hunted for my car.
Peter Lemonjello and Mark and I leaned against the cool metal car doors. We all knew what had happened, and that it was indescribable, but we ranted and raved about it anyway.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIt was the show!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Mark said. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIt was the best show! And it was the best TruckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ! Did you see how long Jerry took going into it? But when Jerry wants to play fuckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ TruckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ, JerryÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs going to play fuckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ TruckinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ!
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂMeantime, during the show this biker near me is screaming at Jerry, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHappy birthday, you motherfucker!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ and I canÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt believe IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm saying it but IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm sayinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ to this guy, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHey, you canÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt call him a motherfucker, thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs Jerry!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
We stopped at a gas station on the way out of town, and talked to some Deadheads in a packed VW bus next to us at the pumps. Not much talking really: ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂYup. Sure was somthinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ They slowly pulled off toward Oklahoma City. We stood around in silence, just watching the bugs slowly glide by our eyes under the lights at the pumps.
We decided to call our friends back in Boulder and tell them not to bother driving to Oklahoma City. We knew the band was probably going to be awful tomorrow night, on ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂJerryÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs birthdayÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ. Mark was right twice; this was the night, and they never play the big show two nights in a row.
Besides, it was all in the math: the Dead had played late tonight for the first time in ages, and it was now 1:30 a.m. The band was probably going to go back to the hotel, snort coke until dawn to celebrate JerryÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs birthday and surviving to rock in their old age and stuff, and then try in vain to sleep. You know that feeling after you do too much coke, where your head feels much too heavy for your neck... but thereÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs nowhere else to put it? Yeah. The show in Oklahoma was scheduled for 2 p.m. The band would never be able to pull themselves together in time. A disaster just waiting to happen when the sun came up.
Mark came back from the phone. Our friends had already left the house for Oklahoma City. It was like those old horror movies -- we tried to save our loved ones in Boulder, but it was too late, they couldnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt be stopped, and now they were doomed.
Driving all night with a head full of LSD isnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt as dangerous as it sounds. Now IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm not recommending that everyone dose just before they get behind the wheel, but I will say that by the time the concert ends the peak has come and gone. (Unless youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂre a big gambler like my old friend Glenn Hirsch, who would still be popping 12 hours worth of LSD tabs in his mouth three-quarters of the way through the show. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂIÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm going to dose until I get it right,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Glenn told me once.)
ANYWAY... by the time you start driving after the show what youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂre left with is an inability to sleep (perfect for all-night driving) and an absurd attention to detail. LSD makes every moment seem to last an hour, and thereÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs not a whole lot thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs going to escape your attention. You can watch a car passing you and notice everything from the design of its headlights in your rear-view mirror as it approaches to the name of the car dealer on the trunk lid as it pulls ahead. Of course, the important part is to remember to watch the road too, instead of concentrating intently on the fact that on the car speeding next to you all of the door rivets are in perfectly parallel lines.
All this is fine, as long as the tape player cranks and there are friends to jabber with. But once the car falls silent, a young feller like me with a head full of acid can get awfully introspective. And thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs when I forget that my thoughts are being temporarily piloted by a very powerful drug.
And it was coincidentally LSD that I started to think about. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd had a really great time tripping at the show. IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd caught just the right amount of acid for the one really hot show of the tour.
IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve always said that thereÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs no such thing as a correct dose of acid; if things are going good, you always wish youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd done a little bit more. If things are bad, youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂll wish youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd done much less. Thinking back, I realized that at the start of the second set, IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd been just a little too high. My thoughts were racing so fast that the band was halfway into the opening tune before I realized that theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd started playing again. (Or course, with an outdoor show there was no dimming of the house lights to clue me in.) I just remembered staring at the beautiful stars and walking through the cool summer night air and suddenly thinking, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂI hear something. Scarlet Begonias, one of my favorite songs! IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm at a Dead show and theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂre playing Scarlet Begonias.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ But while I was thinking that I also knew that I was barely hanging on to the show around me; just a little bit higher and I probably would have stared at the stars for the rest of the evening, facing away from the stage. And had a great time of it too, but I would have ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂmissedÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ the show.
Like I said, there must have been a pretty potent dose left in that liquid bottle IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd dropped in my Mickey Malt. But what made me so damn sure that it was a liquid LSD bottle? Of course it was; thereÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs only one thing in the whole world that comes in that type of dropper. But how did I know? What if it had been someone's favorite combination of heroin and angel dust theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd whipped up just for the occasion? Wait; do those drugs even come in liquid form? ItÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs hard enough to know what youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂre getting these days when you buy psychedelic drugs, but this wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt even delivered by someone claiming that it was acid; just a bottle found on the ground!
How dumb could I be! Was I going to spend the rest of my life like that, sucking down anything that fell in my path? Despite all the old folk tales, theyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve never really found anything wrong with LSD -- no, not chromosome damage, and only those who are already mentally unstable tend to jump out of windows or try to stop speeding trains with their hands. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂThe number one rule for taking LSD:ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ Mark always said, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂMaintain a firm grasp of the obvious. You couldnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt fly before you took LSD, and you probably canÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt fly now.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
If anything, the worst thing that LSD does is make us unfit to be model citizens. Why get a job when you could be sitting on a hillside watching the sun rise? And isnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt it obvious that money is just paper with green ink on it? All of the really great stuff in life -- love, music, peace -- canÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt really be purchased with green paper; just a lot of cars and stereos and purple high-top sneakers that always break or get stolen and that get in the way of the important things.
LSD is strong magic stuff. The first time I did it I had a great time, but didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt know if I would ever do it again. And anything that powerful must be doing something to my system. I wanted to make sure that I had enough brain cells left, just in case I ever wanted to be able to go to the corner for a newspaper. Was I going to be a loser for life? Like Jerry sang in Wharf Rat, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂI know that the life... IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm livinÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs... no good!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHuh!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ I blurted out. Everyone else in the car was jolted from their hallucinations.
I pulled into a rest area on the highway. It had to be 4 a.m., and we were about 100 miles from Manor Downs, but the parking lot was filled with Deadheads, dancing, listening to tape players, playing Frisbee. I got out of the car and tried to walk naturally toward the bathroom. A tired looking trucker was coming down the sidewalk toward me. What did he make of this carnival, sprung up in the middle of the night on I-35? If he noticed, he pretended not to, and shuffled off toward the cab of his truck.
When I came out I saw that while some folks were going to party all night, a few had started laying out sleeping bags right on the asphalt, or even setting up tents on the small grassy median strips. I tried to sleep, enjoyed the show of swirling stars overhead, and worried about what was going to become of me.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
In the morning we were pulling in to Oklahoma City when we saw one of the DeadÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs trucks barrel by us. Geez, they werenÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt in town yet? The band probably took a plane, but somehow I thought the Kwipment Krew would be there already. We laughed as we could see the complete washout todayÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs show was going to be.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂOKLAHOMA ZOO AMPHITHEATERÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ the sign said. The Zoo. And why not? Another clue.
We got to the gate and saw a small, handwritten sign. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTwo oÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂclock show has been postponed until 3 p.m.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ We elbowed each other and laughed. It was even worse than weÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd imagined.
The crowds had poured in; some locals sitting in their pickups and Chevys, listening to Led Zeppelin, and the hordes from Boulder, ready for the big birthday show. We tried to tell a few friends about the Manor Downs show, but they didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt believe us, and I donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt think I would have either. You always run into some bozo on tour who says, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTonightÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs show was...OK..., but last nights show! Oh, you missed last nightÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs? Well, THAT was the show!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
At three oÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂclock, a nervous looking manager type stepped out front where we were waiting. The show was being pushed back to 4 p.m. Yeah right! The band was probably still crashed out at the Austin Hilton.
At 5 p.m. -- three hours late -- the band took the stage on the verge of death. Jerry looked fresh from the intensive care ward; pale white and nervous, hiding behind his usual dark glasses and black T-shirt. Phil wasnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt even wearing his wire rim glasses; maybe he couldnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt bear to watch the upcoming tragedy except as a bad blur. He came on stage with his hair soaking wet, rubbing it with a towel, and looking at us with bewilderment; wondering how we had all gotten into the living room just outside his shower. Bill the drummer was taking deep breaths from an oxygen mask he held to his face. No, really! OK, maybe it was nitrous oxide, not oxygen, but if so, that didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt make me feel any better.
We walked right to the front and wrapped our fingers around the chain link fence. (What an amateur crowd! If you tried that in Rochester, youÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂd be smothered to death!) Jerry was carefully stepping his way through the bands easiest first-set songs. We elbowed each other and guessed most of the songs -- Hmm, what can they play next thatÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs not too loud, has only a few chords, and they know by heart from playing for years. Yup.
Meantime the locals next to us on the fence were going berserk. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂJerry! JERRY! LOOK! WE BAKED YOU A CAKE!ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
Indeed they had. One of those one-pan cakes that comes in a box of mix with its own little aluminum foil pan. Scary. He must have been able to hear them, but he pretended not to notice.
It got worse. In between songs, the entire crowd sang, ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂHappy Birthday,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ to Jerry. He didnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt look up from staring at his shoes. Just re-re-tuned his guitar, then leaned over the top of his amp where lines of magic white powder were waiting for his nose.
Intermission came not a moment too soon. We walked around and wished it were all over. Like watching a cheesy horror film, it loses its attraction fast, and you sort of know how itÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs going to end.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂWatch,ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ I said. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂTheyÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂll open the second set with the worldÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs lamest Iko Iko, since itÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs sort of a special song, but itÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs really easy to play, and everyone who drove out from Boulder will think that they saw something great.ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ
But I shouldnÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt sound so disappointed. And we really did our best not to gloat. I thought the two shows together made great bookends; one fantastic, the second awful, from the same band; the same people; less than 24 hours apart.
ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ